GoGreenRoutes is a multi-dimensional project focusing on nature based solutions to enhance and sustain the termed coined 360-health in the urban context. This means we look at health in terms of the physical, mental and environmental elements that make up a person’s life. GoGreenRoutes hopes to establish a natural way to foster urban mental health and well-being. The goal of the project being to position European cities as world ambassadors of urban sustainability alongside raising awareness about links between human and environmental health.
As part of our Go Green Routes consortium we hold an informal meeting on the first Friday of every month known as the “Friday Feeling” event. This digital gathering, to date, involves members of our consortium getting out into nature in whatever capacity they can. It is a chance for our members to decompress from the usual office space and get outside to experience the scenes, smells, and sounds of nearby nature. Likewise it gives us a chance to step away from ‘doing’ research on a green project and instead gives us an opportunity to ‘live’ our research. Not only this but we get to experience the virtual experience of connecting with others who are in natural surrounding which are unfamiliar to us.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented us all with many different challenges, excessive screen time and increased sedentary behaviour being the major obstacles. Every work interaction we have is virtual. Due to lockdown restrictions the boundary between our personal and professional lives has diminished (sometimes we work on US time!), with much of our social connection now taking place through a screen, leaving little room for change in routines. Which poses the question – How do we recovery from creativity fatigue? Creativity fatigue is real and sometimes you need to lose yourself in order to find you focus. Creativity is one of the most sought after employability skills.
So aiming to encourage and grow this skill is key to both our researchers and the project’s success. Our Go Green Routes Friday Feeling event focuses on providing an opportunity for recovery from creativity fatigue. It provides a space for attention restoration which has been clearly articulated in a recent book by Aoife Donnelly and Tadhg MacIntyre (and by Scopolitti et al. (2019). This explanation suggests that we have two attentional pathways. The first pathway, direct attention, is what most of us experience during our office/study time, it requires effort and concentration. Due to its demanding effort requirements, this can bring about attention fatigue and a longing for restoration. The second pathway is known as our indirect attention and the theory proposes that we experience this when we are in spaces and places that allow us to have less attention and involves fascination. Nature, it is proposed, provides the perfect restorative properties, it is away from distractions, takes up space in the mind and it provides an opportunity for fascination. Our GoGreenRoutes project will test this theory and competing accounts of the positive impact of nature on our minds (see Brosschott et al., 2018).
We asked our consortium members what they liked about their Friday Feeling experience, to which there was a pleasant and enthusiastic response. “Getting outdoors, casual conversation, showing off where I live.” “If we are not able to go outside we can enjoy a lot just watching the videos from others!”. When asked did they experience restorative elements from their involvement in Friday Feeling there was a strong sense that it had “FOR SURE!” “I felt this event was less formal & allowed for a more relaxed pleasant setting” “I felt less stressed!”. We finally asked our members if they would recommend implementing nature walk/breaks experiences as breaks during office hours. “Yes, because you can have some of the benefits of being in nature but during your working time.” “Definitely yes, it is easy to do, pride of place, happy to be out” “Yes, I think it would improve the working day to be connected to nature. During covid many people work from home and breaks are taken at a screen which means there are no breaks. Implementing a break in the outdoors gives the opportunity to disconnect and the chance to recharge.” “Yes, you can be in stressful situations or be swapping between your email and a word/excel document all day. Getting a break in a digital or real sense can help you take a breather and be able to go back and be more productive afterwards.”.
So don’t just take our word for it. Next time you organise a meeting or catch up online grab your phone and trainers and encourage your peers to get outside and explore nature with you. You and your work will thank you!
For those who are confined to their houses/apartments or who live in urban areas, these meeting provide an opportunity to experience nature through a digital interface. To learn more about the benefits of nature and our innovations be sure to follow along the GoGreenRoutes journey with us.
The GoGreenRoutes project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Innovation action programme under grant agreement no. 869764.
Jennifer Rice is a PhD student in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick. Contact: Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on twitter: @JenniferMayRice
Cassandra Murphy is a PhD student in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick, on the GoGreenRoutes. Contact: Cassandra.email@example.com. Follow on twitter: @cassmurph16